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Alicia Menendez: How women can destroy the 'likeability trap'

According to the MSNBC host, women face a double standard when it comes to being liked at work.
MSNBC host Alicia Menendez and "Morning Joe" co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.
MSNBC host Alicia Menendez and "Morning Joe" co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.Anthony Scutro

Women pay professional penalties no matter where they fall on the “likeability” spectrum, according to MSNBC anchor Alicia Menendez.

In an interview with Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, Menendez discussed her new book “The Likeability Trap,” in which she outlined the consequences of likeability in the workplace.

According to Menendez, women face a double standard, whether they are “likeable,” or if they “don’t give a damn.”

“We know so well that women are given one of two sets of feedback,” said Menendez. “They're either told they're too assertive, too aggressive, too comfortable with conflict, and then that has a likeability penalty. Or, they’re told they're too nice, they don't take up enough space, they don't take up enough oxygen — and those women aren't thought of as leaders.”

Brzezinski said that women can’t get ahead until they stop obsessing over their “likeability.”

“It’s such a distraction from the goal,” said Brzezinski. “I think we can agree [likeability] is not what you should be going for. You should actually be looking for respect for being seen as a leader, and for being seen as someone who should be considered as an equal in the conversation. That means pulling back, centering yourself, listening more, not worrying about this big issue of being liked.”

Menendez described a Catch-22 in which women need to assert themselves, but if they assert themselves, they are penalized in a different way.

“My thought was that I would speak to women who don't give a damn and that they would be off living their best lives,” said Menendez. “And what I found was even those women feel that they pay a price in the workplace for being so brazenly themselves, that often by identifying and addressing problems, they become the problem.”

This frustration is compounded by the fact that women are often the disproportionate recipients of behavior-oriented criticism, according to Menendez.

“Where this manifests in a workplace environment is around critical, subjective feedback. Most of the feedback that women receive about the way we sit, the way we talk, the way we communicate. Some of that can be useful, but it tends to be the disproportionate amount of feedback that we get… Consider whether or not they would give it to someone else in the office. More specifically ,whether or not they'd give it to a man,” said Menendez.

The solution is to change the narrative, according to Menendez. Women need to band together to destroy the “likeability trap.”

“What we need to do is use our collective energy to push back on this,” said Menendez. “Be good advocates for one another...I t's one thing to give someone counsel, it is another thing to open doors to introduce them to people, to connect them with opportunities. That is what it is going to take to help us catapult forward.”